Is it a strategy game or an action game?
Tank Beat is one of those games that tries to pull two genres together into one. It accomplishes this primarily by taking advantage of the two screens in the DS. The top screen is like a 3D action game. The bottom screen is a pure, top-down strategy game. Neither experience is exactly exceptional, but there is some fun to be had.
The basic premise is that you are a tank driver who was recently on the losing side of a war. At the end of the war, you ran away with just the basic tank you were driving at the time. While out exploring you come across a small group of rebels trying to defeat the tyrants who took over the area. Naturally you team up with them. The story gets a bit stereotypical at this point. The male protagonist with a huge heart joins up with a team where the primary character is a prideful female. They immediately become involved in some flirtatious bickering that continues throughout the story. Combine that predictability with the fact that the story is only driven by non-animated sprites and speech balloons, and there really isn't that much to draw you in.
So basically, the only thing left to make the game enjoyable is the gameplay, and thankfully it has some entertaining aspects. Tanks are controlled almost exclusively with the stylus. You can use it on the bottom screen (which displays the top-down view) to draw the path you want your tank to follow. This allows you to set up relatively intricate and/or haphazard patterns. To attack, you hold down the L button on the DS and then touch an area on the screen. If that area is within your tank's range, you will fire whatever weapon is currently selected. The vast majority of the missions are spent staring at the bottom screen and the result is a slightly above average real-time strategy game. The top screen is being used throughout, though. It displays a third-person view of your tank in 3D. The graphics are nice and smooth, if a bit uninspired. It would be nicer if you spent a little bit more time checking them out during a mission though, as it is nearly impossible to function effectively if you take the time to see the sights.
The developers did add a dynamic to the game that forces the use of the top screen. In some missions, the radar system in the tank does not function for whatever reason. Therefore you have to rely on your own sight to aim at the enemies. You drive around constantly peering at the top screen. Once an enemy is spotted, you'll want to switch gears and start looking at the top screen, somehow connecting the location in which you see the enemy with a spot on the 2D map. This is where the action aspects of the game come in, as the best tactic to use is to switch to machine guns, set up a strafing pattern for your tank, and then fire like mad while staring at the top screen. It's like a one-on-one brawl in Quake, only with tanks. While this diversion is a welcome one, it would have been nice if the developers could have pulled the two different views together in even more interesting ways.
Tank Wars does include a multiplayer mode that can be played online over Nintendo's Wi-Fi connection. This adds a bit of longevity to the title, but the options are scarce. You select if you want to battle either people on your friends list, or anyone who is actively searching for a game. Then you pick how many combatants you want to have involved in the match (from 2 to 4). After that, the matchmaking software takes over, and eventually (if you are lucky), it finds some opponents for you to fight. You are then asked to choose your tank and are thrown into a random stage. While having several tanks to choose from is interesting, the fact that many of them are designed with specific uses in mind really hurts the ability to have competitive matches. For example, there is one tank that is actually a long range missile launcher, and that's it. It has no machine guns and very poor armor. If you pick this tank, your success is totally dependent on the level that you get thrown into. If it's a wide open area where any tanks can roam as they please, as soon as you are spotted, the opponent will come in for close range combat and you are done for. However, if a stage is chosen that is full of lakes, you can use them to constantly keep your distance, allowing you to take full advantage of the range of the missiles. You'll have your opponents dead before they even get a shot off.
Besides the shortcomings of the random stage selection, the scoring is actually quite clever. Points are awarded for both destroying an opponent and just landing hits. While destroying someone will land you the biggest chunk of points at one time, the fact that all successful shots score points keeps people from only picking off the weak tanks while letting other combatants do most of the dirty work.
Overall Tank Beat is good game that may not leave you screaming for more, but at least it's an enjoyable diversion. It's a cleverly designed game that could use a bit more polish. It's one of those games that you can play through and enjoy, but afterwards you'll have a ton of ideas that you hope will be implemented in the sequel.